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Death of media magnat Amos Kyne is causing power struggle between his executives. In the meantime New York women become prey of a serial killer. Reporter Edward Mobley is in that circumstances faced with almost impossible missions: to catch the killer, to prevent the media empire from falling into the wrong hands and to save his romantic relationship from break-up. Written by
Dragan Antulov <email@example.com>
Between 1936 and 1956, during his tenure in America, the German director Fritz Lang made some of the most psychologically astute movies ever to come out of the studio system, often working with the flimsiest of material; pulpish fiction indeed. Most of these films were thrillers, though perhaps only in the most nebulous sense of the term, dealing instead with the psychosis of the killer or, as here, with the iniquitous motives of those on the periphery of the case. 'Plot', in the strictest sense of the term, never really interested Lang, 'the story' as such being secondary to the observational detail and the characterizations. In "While the City Sleeps" the serial killer whom we expect to be at the centre is side-lined to such an extent that catching him is never the focus of attention. He's the 'McGuffin', if you like, for an entirely different movie, one in which the thriller element is dispatched in favour of a study of greed and the relationships, not always savory, between men and women.
The film is set in the world of newspapers and news agencies, so you expect an aura of venality from the outset. Vincent Price is the vain, self-centered scion of a recently deceased magnate who has taken over his father's business and wants someone else to do all the work. So he creates a new executive position then sets three of his top men against each other vying for the job. The one who 'catches' or names the serial killer terrorizing women in New York, gets it.
Like many of Lang's films, "While the City Sleeps" had the tawdry feel of a B-movie. There is a kind of rough urgency to it that a more main-streamed movie might have lacked. (You could say Lang's genius was for making silk purses out of sow's ears). He didn't work with 'stars' but character players. About the biggest name in the movie and the 'star' of the picture is Dana Andrews, (superb, he was a very under-rated actor), as the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who, like many of Lang's characters, is less noble than he first appears. As for the rest, despite there being two Oscar winners in the cast, (George Sanders, one of his poorer performances, and Thomas Mitchell, excellent), they were mainly the stable diet of the B-movie, though that said there is a terrific performance from the under-rated Sally Forrest as Andrews' girl who he is not above using as bait to catch the killer and a typically flamboyant one from Ida Lupino.
After this, Lang was to make only one more film in America before returning to his native Germany, the equally cynical "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt". Indeed it's Lang's cynicism and his critique of American values and mores that set him apart, that put him, like those other European émigrés, Otto Preminger and Douglas Sirk at a critical remove from his American counterparts. In this respect, perhaps, the only American who can be compared to him is Samuel Fuller.
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